The small business crisis: better child care

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It is no secret that for small businesses struggling to staff up, the lack of available and affordable child care has been a leading and persistent barrier, further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Small Business Association of Michigan recognizes that this is both a workforce problem and an early education policy issue. Child care providers play a key role in providing a vital foundation for our children to enter our K-12 system, prepared and ready for success. Those children go on to be our workforce of tomorrow.

For parents of young children, the availability of quality, reliable child care is an essential part of planning a consistent work schedule. When faced with a disruption of child care services, parents must pivot to find alternatives, often requiring a parent to stay home until a new solution is in place. For parents who can successfully work remotely, the disruption can be inconvenient, but doable. For those who must go to the workplace, the alternatives can be sparse, or even nonexistent.

This continual change is creating significant challenges for small businesses across the state. I recently heard about these issues firsthand from Tom Mathison, owner of Mathison | Mathison Architects in Grand Rapids. Tom shared with me that his firm must adjust its operations daily due to child care issues. While Mathison | Mathison Architects has been able to provide employees with necessary resources to work at home, child care issues prevent team collaboration and lead to a lack of reliability to plan for their team and clients.

In the COVID age, this is especially true, not just for pre-K children, but for all children. Employees continue to experience disruptions as schools and after-school care are in flux. The sudden closing of schools and/or bus routes can change daily plans radically. And in businesses where remote work is not possible, last-minute changes due to child care leave small businesses scrambling to cover shifts.

While businesses of all shapes and sizes have felt this strain, this issue truly hits home for our small businesses. Child care and the uncertainty that surrounds the industry, as well as the K-12 system, is felt at a larger scale when you have a small workforce.

That is why we are working with the newly formed Childcare Providers Association of Michigan to advocate for providers and help navigate the complexities of child care for small businesses. Addressing child care issues is critical to the success of both the current workforce and the employees of tomorrow.

The good news is that the legislature and governor have made tremendous strides on this issue recently, between innovative programs, additional financial support and legislation to better our regulatory structure. The Small Business Association of Michigan applauds these wins and hopes to be a continued ally as we tackle this bipartisan issue head-on to properly support Michigan small businesses, employees and their families.

We have a terrific opportunity to help business owners like Tom Mathison and lead the way in addressing this critical need. Together we can ensure that both employees and small businesses can be successful.

Brian Calley is president and CEO of Small Business Association of Michigan.

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